Nationwide Insurance agent files suit, claims managers told him to redline West Louisville 

Nationwide Insurance Company, America's sixth largest property and casualty insurer, has once again been hit with allegations of insurance redlining, this time in a lawsuit filed by one of its Louisville, Kentucky-based agents. John Askin, the insurance agent who at one time played football for the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, claimed that Nationwide's managers would not allow him to write policies in Louisville's predominately Black (92 percent) West End. A map from Askin's office which was filed with the suit showed where managers had allegedly circled the West End in red ink and marked it with an X. They said underwriters would cancel West End policies.

Askin, who is white, claimed that he filed suit after managers attempted to retaliate against him when he questioned their discriminatory practices. Askin is seeking nearly $5 million in lost future earnings and $100 million in punitive damages.

Askin is being represented by J. Bruce Miller and J. Daniel Farrell in Louisville, attorneys from the law firm which has been serving as lead counsel in the infamous Prudential Sales Practices litigation case which recently resulted in a $1 million fine against Prudential for destruction of documents. Prudential's total expected loss is $2 - 3 billion.

Askin's suit comes on the heels of a similar suit filed by a former Nationwide agent in Michigan. In that suit, according to the January 6, 1997 issue of the National Underwriter, Pasquale "Pat" Casasanta alleges that Nationwide was guilty of illegal redlining practices and that he was fired by Nationwide when he reported the activity to state officials.

Casasanta claims that Nationwide's Commercial Underwriters told him that they did not want any "Detroit business." The underwriters then instructed him to prepare a list of commercial insurance accounts that had what they called "Detroit exposure."

Over the past several years, Nationwide, a company with 43,000 agents and more than ten million policies, has been under scrutiny in Kentucky and around the nation after charges of redlining were issued by fair housing groups. In 1996, the Lexington Fair Housing Council in Kentucky sued Nationwide, alleging that the company had refused or avoided selling homeowner's policies to Black testers. The Lexington Fair Housing Council says that its tests show that Nationwide offered to sell policies in mainly white neighborhoods, but not in integrated or predominately Black neighborhoods in Fayette County.

In 1995, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) audited the practices of Nationwide and Allstate Insurance Companies in several cities across the country. NFHA claimed that Blacks who tried to get homeowners insurance were discriminated against more than half of the time. Nationwide denied the claims. NFHA has since asked the Justice Department to investigate the company.

The Toledo Fair Housing Center in Toledo, Ohio filed suit against Nationwide in 1993 claiming that Nationwide quoted unjustifiably high rates in Black neighborhoods, made coverage unavailable to Black households, charged higher rates in African-American neighborhoods, refused to insure properties worth less than $40,000 to $50,000 in Black neighborhoods while not applying the same rule in white neighborhoods, and cancelled or refused to renew policies already in place in African-American neighborhoods.

A fifth redlining lawsuit against Nationwide was filed late last year in Richmond, Virginia by the private fair housing group Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME). Details of that case are still coming out.

A USA Today article outlined several other cases against Nationwide from around the country, including a case similar to Askin's brought by Michigan agent Terry Novak. He claims redlining occurred in inner city Detroit. Novak was fired and claims Nationwide tried to cancel all the policies he wrote in Detroit.

On January 7, 1997, Lou Fabro, a Nationwide spokesperson, told the Courier-Journal that Nationwide did not discriminate against "groups of people based on where they live." He said that Nationwide reviews each application individually. Fabro refused to comment on Askin's lawsuit or on the map, telling a Courier-Journal reporter that he had not seen them.

In the lawsuit, Askin claimed that Nationwide offered him a job after his football career at Notre Dame and his brief stint in the NFL. Askin said that he finished at the top of his sales training class and won numerous awards for outstanding sales performance, including company-paid trips to Disney World and Opryland theme park. In the six years he worked for Nationwide, Askin said that he brought in more than $3 million in new premiums. Despite his apparent success, Askin's managers placed him on "probation" in February 1996. Askin says it was retaliation.

Askin claims, in his lawsuit, that he witnessed several instances of discrimination during his tenure at Nationwide. A manager once asked him if a policy he had written covered a house in a "salt or pepper" neighborhood. Another manager once remarked that he couldn't hire a certain Black person as an insurance agent because he grew up in Louisville's West End. "He grew up in the wrong ZIP code," the manager said.

Askin also claims in his suit that he and the rest of the Louisville sales office received sales and marketing materials which he believed promoted illegal and unethical redlining practices from the company. Askin said that he believes nationwide officials tried to conceal these materials from government investigators.

Askin attempted to open an office in Louisville's West End in June 1993. Nationwide put a halt to Askin's plans, saying that a West End office would not be in the company's "target market."

In 1994, Askin was visited by an investigator from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The investigator asked if Askin thought that Nationwide was engaged in the practice of redlining. Askin said that he thought the company was "guilty." Askin made similar charges when a Nationwide attorney visited him from Ohio. Askin says that many of his troubles began when he told the attorney that he thought Nationwide was practicing redlining in Louisville.

Askin claims that after he complained of redlining, he was placed on Nationwide's Automobile Portfolio Management Plan (APMP). Askin claims that agents placed on APMP have bad accounts transferred into their names in an attempt to get rid of those agents. Askin says that he was told on several occasions that APMP was originally designed to weed out Black agents in Philadelphia who brought civil rights claims against Nationwide. Askin claims that dozens of bad policies were given to him and that some of the policies had his signature forged on them.

In July 1996, someone broke into Askin's office. The thieves passed up expensive computer equipment and chose instead to steal insurance files. The thieves only managed to steal copies of the files because Askin kept the originals elsewhere. When Askin arrived on the scene, he saw that the photocopier was on and someone had tried, unsuccessfully, to log onto his computer three times.

Askin claims that Nationwide's plan to continually transfer bad accounts to his office would have forced him to close his office some time this year. The number of new accounts that Nationwide allowed Askin to write has decreased steadily since 1994.

Farrell commented on the case. "In this case, the outrageous behavior alleged by John Askin speaks for itself and simply must not be tolerated."